How do I find out about what happened in an airplane/helicopter crash?
In the United States, primary responsibility for investigation of crashes is vested in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). This agency frequently utilizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to assist it in the investigation. Additionally, the NTSB will invite all parties of which it is aware that might be responsible for the crash (the aircraft operator, the airframe manufacturer, the engine manufacturer and component manufacturers) to participate in the investigation. All of the factual information obtained by these agencies and private entities is (in the opinion of the NTSB) confidential during the process of the investigation. Obviously there is an inherent conflict of interest here inasmuch as the FAA works closely with most of the entities who may be responsible for the crash. During certain phases of the investigation, the NTSB will release public information through its website at www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp. These reports are released as “preliminary report”, “factual report” and “probable cause” report.
Experienced aviation attorneys agree that much of the information contained in these reports is inaccurate and incomplete. Frequently, the reports are influenced by experts hired by the parties who may be responsible for the crash. Often, private investigations of these matters reveal facts that are completely inconsistent with these reports so it is routine for attorneys representing victims of aviation accidents to conduct a private investigation independent of these agency investigations.
Are there different rights and/or investigations for commercial airline crashes versus private aircraft crashes?
Typically the primary difference between commercial crashes of scheduled commercial air carriers and private or chartered aircraft crashes is the scope of the investigation and the manner in which information is released. Frequently the NTSB will conduct a much more comprehensive investigation in the event of the crash of a scheduled commercial air carrier. Typically the NTSB will release information much earlier during the course of its investigation (frequently through scheduled news releases and press conferences) than in the investigation of private aircraft crashes. Additionally, the NTSB creates a higher standard of investigation for crashes involving fatalities than those that result in personal injury.
How do I obtain the preliminary report/factual report/final report of the crash?
To find this information visit the NTSB’s website at www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp.
What are the rights of a victim of an aviation crash?
The rights of a victim of an aviation crash (or the survivors of such a victim) have varying rights depending upon the state in which the crash occurred, whether the crash occurred into federal or state waters and whether the crash occurred on a platform fixed to the seabed. These rights can vary dramatically as a result of the location and/or cause of the crash. You should contact an attorney with experience in handling aviation matters if you or a member of your family is the victim of an aviation crash.
How do I find out whether an accident was caused by pilot error, government error or mechanical failure?
First you should visit the NTSB website and review all reports that are made available (see www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp). However, it’s important to note that the individuals conducting these investigations frequently have a substantial conflict of interest and the information contained in these reports as well as the determination of probable cause can be erroneous.
Who pays for medical and/or funeral bills for the victims of an aviation crash?
The answer to this question varies dramatically depending upon the location and/or cause of the crash. One set of rules applies to accidents occurring on land and another set of rules applies to accidents occurring at sea or on a fixed offshore platform. You should consult an experienced aviation attorney who can investigate such matters and determine which set of rules apply.
How do I know if I need legal counsel?
In virtually all aviation accidents one should consult an experienced aviation attorney before discussing settlement with any potentially liable parties. Typically it is impossible for survivors to obtain accurate factual information in the event of an airplane crash unless litigation is commenced. The rules governing the investigation and dissemination of information related to an aviation accident investigation are designed to limit access to such information by victims. In written position papers the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) claims that such “confidentiality” is necessary to allow full and efficient investigations. In reality such governmental practices result in the concealment of important information that can only be obtained through litigation. Experienced aviation attorneys agree that even through a response to a request for information under the federal Freedom of Information Act agencies will conceal or withhold data important to one’s understanding of the cause of a crash.
How do I know that an attorney has qualifications to handle an aviation case?
If you are seeking an aviation attorney you should question any potential choices concerning specific aviation cases that they have handled previously, cases that they have actually tried as lead counsel to conclusion and the nature of the party that they represented in such cases. The Broussard & David, L.L.C. website on which you are currently logged discloses some of the experience of this law firm in handling such cases.